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Book Review: Simplicity Parenting

I borrowed this from interlibrary loan, but it's easily worth whatever it would cost to buy new!  A slow bathroom read I could have breezed through it faster if I read it during blogging hours ha ha ;0)

The subtitle is "Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, & More Secure Kids"....I can't remember now how I came upon this title, but I'm sure it was right up there with Heaven on Earth (review still to come) & You Are Your Child's First Teacher.  There is also a supportive website w/ a "starter kit" to get you reading right away: http://www.simplicityparenting.com/

The chapters are simple: first he outlines why we should simplify, moves to what he calls soul fever, then touches on the 4 main areas we can simplify our lives (& thus bring about calmer, happier more secure children - and mom & dad too).  These 4 areas are the environment (read toys, mostly, but he also talks about food), rhythm (what to expect each day, even if it is different every day), schedules (some things may need to go), and filtering out the adult world.  We don't have TV so the news is pretty much gone other than online stuff or NPR for a few minutes in the morning...but it's not just the TV.  He also addresses the things adults talk about to & in front of their children - and even talking too much about nothing.  Since I just finished the book & this last chapter is on my mind I want to start there with a few points that struck me: I was taught to give a running commentary to our babies all day, telling them what I was doing, what they were doing, blah blah blah all day long.  If this continues into toddlerhood & beyond they WILL start to tune you out.  Why did Laura & Mary listen to & obey Pa?  Because he didn't say much!  The 3 things to filter on your mouth: Is it true? (takes care of gossip) Is it kind? Is it necessary? This is where the running commentary gets shortened to a few words, not the constant droning all day, or the deep adult explanation for a simple 3 year old's question about why the sun is hot.  Now, Papa J & I are believers in explaining things to our children, and letting them see who we are & sharing that with them.  But we didn't go into it ALL when they were little (like under 8 or 10) - it was a gradual thing, adding more explanations, more depth, more teaching as they got older & needed more.  My first encounter with this idea was while visiting a Waldorf kindergarten earlier this year...I think it can be taken to an extreme in either direction but for sure we don't need to be talking all day or sharing adult things with our little children as much as we do.

One example of an adult issue that I didn't filter out came back last night in the 5 year old's bad dream (yeah, I've been up since 4am so why am I doing this right now??).  We watched a newer version of the Sound of Music a few days ago (we hadn't watched the original yet, they're the same play just different actors) & she had a bad dream that the army was going to come get daddy & big brother and make them fight in a war.  Heavy stuff for a little one, right?  I sat right there during the movie & explained what was going on because of course she had questions while it was happening....but maybe I should have turned it off or blown over it?  Still trying to figure that kind of thing out, but there's an example of something maybe left to older children.

A point Payne makes in the Why section is that all children are quirky :0)  Totally true!  They all, like each of us, have their personal little quirks - but - with a consistent pattern of stress they can slide right into hyperactivity, or oppositional defiance disorder, or ADD, OCD, or any number of labels for which schools, doctors & parents drug their children.  His equation goes like this: q+s=d, or quirk plus stress equals disorder. 

In Soul Fevers he compares a physical fever to something not quite right in our children, affecting their behavior & emotional climate of our homes.  When a child has a physical fever, you may stay home from work, change that child's diet for a few days, have more quiet & calm til they feel better - change your whole schedule around.  When a child has an emotional, or Soul Fever, you need to do the same.  Stop, pay attention.  Change things around til you figure out what it is & then make permanent changes.  "When your child seems to deserve affection least, that's when they need it most"....

How about some statistics?  In the Environment section it quotes "Born to Buy" by Juliet Schor as saying that the average American child receives SEVENTY toys per year.  Children's play has become 'less focused on activities, and more on the things involved, the toys themselves'.  Too much stuff leads to too many choices, which leads to being overwhelmed.  And this leads to undervaluing all of them & to hold out for whatever elusive thing isn't offered - "MORE!" - what pseudo power!

So what are the options?  Have you noticed that small children love to help?  Do you brush them off or find a way to get them involved?  It takes a lot longer at first for sure - but the confidence your children will gain and actual help to you it brings later can't even be measured.  Involve them in the work of family life.  Small brooms, simple sewing projects, washing dishes & folding washcloths - all very simple ways to work and experience life together.  Of course there will still be toys, but the more natural and flexible the toy the better it will be used; elaborate or character-specific dress ups or toys just aren't open enough for a wide range of pretend.  If the toys are simple & open ended, they will provide the most varied & sustained possibilities for pretend play.  Outdoor play is something that you should strive for every day, no matter the weather (this is my own opinion & wasn't stated as directly in the book).  Time in nature is restorative & helps us recover from stresses of daily life - even improves our capacity to pay attention.

Food has been one we've addressed to varying degrees in our home over the years.  We've not really had any food 'battles' or people who won't eat, but our teens have experimented with vegetarianism & eating all raw diets that have just about driven us crazy.  While the little ones get what we make, the big ones are capable of making their own.  So - there are some nights where there are 3 different meals being prepared for dinner!  We adapt when we can, but our older ones know they need to make their own if what we've made for dinner doesn't meet their requirements.  Our food itself IS much more simple than it used to be - even if the prep may be a bit more complicated b/c of the big age gap & various meals being prepared.  The highly processed & sweetened foods are gone, as are the fake food ingredients.  Payne asks us to question ourselves as we go grocery shopping, "Is this food designed to nourish, or to entertain? To stimulate? Was this food designed, or was it grown? Did it exist 50 years ago?  Can I identify or pronounce it's ingredients? There are 17,000 "new food products" introduced to shoppers in this country every year!!!"

How about sports?  Payne says that organized sports can present a 'packaged world' of set rules & procedures to very young children, rather than a world of their own making.  Self directed play builds multiple & emotional intelligences, fostering the skills necessary to navigate an uncertain future, one that will demand increasing flexibility & creative problem solving (summary mine).  This kind of independent thinking is what got the Montessori schools closed during WW2 Germany!  Do we want children who just follow rules & specialize in a sport by age 8?  Families with children under this age (even 9 or 10) can simplify their lives tremendously just by emphasizing free play over organized sports & martial arts (not to mention a greater chance of raising children who are able to think for themselves!).  The stages of play allow for team & competitive sports, just not as such early ages as children are being pushed these days...younger, faster, more more more.  In early childhood, little ones begin with solitary play, then parallel play, and finally 'let's pretend'.  Having been free to imagine, a child is then ready to learn how to play the game.  You don't want your children getting worn out & burned out just at the age when they are developmentally ready to start playing organized sports!  Large family?  Maybe something everyone can enjoy is the way to go - swim team or archery maybe.  The schedules will be closer to the same & the "home team" - the family - can still stick together somewhat. Some families have several children involved in sports, but they have to be during different seasons so that everyone isn't doing everything all at once.

Toward the end of the book I was struck by something I've always done!  Requests.  "When everything is a request you have another form of verbal clutter: Taylor, howya doing?  Would you like to get in the car now? What do you think? Can you buckle up that seat belt? Will you shut the door? Sweetie, is that you throwing those toys up to the front? Would  you please stop?"  Yikes!  This has been me in the past!  Not so much with the two little ones but boy I did this a lot with our older ones.  Directions can & should be - get this - direct ;0)  "I can't drive with distractions.  We don't throw anything in the car".  Period.  Whew that is easier.  I've got to just directly quote here b/c it's dead on: "Requests may seem like "gentler" forms of communication, but with so many of them they're very easy to ignore, and their uniformity make it hard for a child to know what's really important.  They invite response, but not really, so the overall effect is one of background noise".

My reading this year has mostly been in similar circles: You are Your Child's First Teacher, Heaven on Earth (review coming soon) but each one touches on slightly different variations on the theme & each of these 3 books has been so useful in creating more calm, more time, and more meaning to our days.  We still have a lot to work on - the work will never be done & is always changing as the children grow - but our awareness of these things and the increasing intentionality are priceless and a heritage I want to pass along to our children.  By the way, I also read 2 other books this year that were eye opening (if not just downright funny): the first was "Stuff White People Like" - just a funny short bathroom read but much of it so true!  The other was "Crunchy Cons".  That was less political & more family oriented than I expected - even advocating home education and gasp - church attendance ;0)  I have since passed those books along to the thrift store (they were free at our homeschool swap) but their effect rolls right in with the deeper topics of the Waldorf inspired books.  One on my wish list is 'Better Off'....and thank you again, Mr. Becoming Minimalist for aiding in all this!  Not there, but working on it!

Happy reading!

http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/ a blog & info about the book
http://www.amazon.com/Crunchy-Cons-Birkenstocked-evangelical-homeschooling/dp/1400050642 amazon link
 http://www.amazon.com/Better-Off-Flipping-Switch-Technology/dp/0060570059 amazon
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/becoming-minimalist-start-here/  Becoming Minimalist blog

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